It took less than a week after Vail Resorts announced its operating plans for Stowe, Okemo and Mount Snow and all its North American resorts (including a new skiing-by-reservation system) for more of Vermont’s independents to come out with statements about their operations.
And the independents’ lower-cost season passes to these resorts or the $199 Indy Pass (a pass that guarantees two days of skiing at each of 50 small resorts, including Vermont’s Bolton Valley, Magic Mountain and Suicide Six) is looking even more attractive, even as a hedge for Ikon or Epic Pass holders.
One Indy Pass member, Magic Mountain, was already far ahead of the game. On April 15, it was one of the first areas in the country to respond to what CEO Geoff Hatheway rightly predicted would be the ongoing impacts of Covid-19. The southern Vermont renegade resort announced it was dropping its season pass prices by nearly 20 percent, extending pass deadlines and offering to defer passes for a season if the resort were shut down to Covid-19 in the coming season. Magic also announced a “Service” pass for military and front-line health care workers. Other resorts followed suit. Magic has historically only been open four or five days a week and that is likely to continue this season. But new this season, it will be offering a Vermont Locals pass for residents at just $399.
Then, in early summer Hatheway also announced that Magic would be only selling day tickets online (buy ahead, then pick them up as you check-in in the parking lot) limiting its skier visits to meet capacity restrictions (preference to passholders first) and moving some of the food and beverage and other operations outdoors. Magic would require masks everywhere which, as of Aug. 1 is now required by Vermont state law. And on top of that, Magic started selling its own masks and donating the proceeds to Youth Enrichment Services (YES), a private non-profit organization which provides affordable and impactful sports-based programming (with one key area focused on snowsports) for low-to-moderate income diverse urban youth who might never have the chance to experience skiing.
In late August, Suicide Six (also on the Indy pass) announced: “We’ve decided to hold our pass prices at last year’s reduced rate and we’ve also guaranteed your 20-21 season. If we must limit our season to 30 operating days or less, we’ll allow you to roll your pass forward to next year.” The ski area also held fast its pass prices (which actually dropped last season) and is offering a health care workers and military “Heroes” pass. New this year, Suicide Six will only be open five days a week, Wednesday-Sunday and the Corduroy Cafe will be packing up meals and food to go while, outdoor seating is being set up and Perley’s Pourhouse will work on socially-distanced alternatives.
“It’s going to be a season to buy an extra puffy because you are going to be outside,” said Bolton Valley president Lindsay Deslauriers. While reservations won’t be needed for skiing, the resort is working on setting up a call-ahead-to-order and inside seating reservation system for its food service as well as additional outdoor seating. Lessons and rentals will also need to be reserved ahead of time online. “We’ll ask folks to come in to eat but not linger at tables and to warm up inside but only for 15 minutes or less,” she said. This year, as Bolton installs an RFID system, it will also be moving to online ticket buying. “We want to reduce all the places people have to stand in line,” Deslauriers said. Unlike Vail Resorts which will be only putting two singles on a chair, Bolton is allowing skiers and riders to choose how they want to social distance. “On lifts we will allow guests to group themselves with their own party to fill a chair, however: we will not require more than two singles to ride a quad together and we will allow singles on our double chairs,” Deslauriers noted on the website. Bolton Valley has made a name for itself with its backcountry terrain and rental center and new this year, the resort is offering season-long rentals of backcountry gear. “We know a lot of people want to get into it but might not be ready to buy a whole set-up so this is a good way to try for a season,” said Deslauriers. Bolton, as Delauriers notes, is a local’s mountain and “70 percent of our passholders are from Vermont” which makes contact tracing easier and represents a demographic that, currently, has been less impacted by Covid-19. The resort is also offering an innovative Study Hall Camp this fall where parents can drop their kids for supervised Zoom classroom work, with “after-school” mountain biking and other activities. Come winter, night skiing and the corporate race league will be back.
When Covid-19 hit, many thought Mad River Glen was looking pretty good with its long-time local cadre of shareholders and passholders and a single chair that seemed to foretell social distancing. This wasn’t lost on MRG, which used Aspen CEO Mike Kaplan’s quote (see below) to describe the upcoming ski season. General Manager Matt Lillard took to Facebook this week to explain how the season would work, which, frankly, is not too different from past seasons, with the exception that the shareholder’s Mad Money program was being phased out. A $3.2 million renovation has been underway to upgrade some of the physical structures, including completely renovating the Basebox (now in classic red, white and gray) which has added ventilation, sheetrock, lockers and a kitchen. Lillard promised the area would do what it could to ensure that MRG’s popular events would go on (such as the Triple Crown Challenge), that the single chair would run, that food would be served (with more seating options outside) and, in his words “There will be skiing. It’s what we do.” Lillard left open the possibility that day tickets might be limited but eschewed for now any reservation system. And the skinning and uphill policy remains the same; do it early season, or before and after the lifts close or buy a lift ticket.
Opening photo Looking strong at Suicide Six. (photo taken on the introduction of the 6-pack lift, 2017).